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Final report Parent-child reading to improve language development and school readiness: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Lookup NU author(s): Professor James LawORCiD, Dr Jenna Charlton, Professor Cristina McKeanORCiD, Fiona Beyer, Dr Cristina Fernandez-Garcia, Atefeh Mashayekhi, Robert Rush



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a report that has been published in its final definitive form by Newcastle University and Queen Margaret University, 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


WHAT WE KNOW ALREADY For a number of years now population studies have shown us that parental book reading is an important feature of what is sometimes called the child’s Home Learning Environment (HLE). Evidence suggests that the more parents read to their children and the more books there are in the child’s home, the better a child will perform in terms of their later academic and social performance. This then raises the question of whether it is possible to provide interventions that promote early reading and whether those effects last. There have been a number of reviews of the intervention literature, but these have included a mixture of different types of studies and ages of children and have a variety of different foci. In this report we carry out a narrowly constrained systematic review focusing specifically on book reading interventions carried out specifically by parents and carers with preschool children (up to the age of five years) and looking primarily at the impact of parent child reading interventions on expressive language (use of language to convey meaning to others) and receptive language (understanding the words and language of others) and pre-reading skills. WHAT DID WE DO? We searched all the literature available in electronic databases over the past forty years for parent-child reading intervention studies which included books or electronic readers. The studies had to have adopted a randomised or a quasi-experimental (matched) design with book reading being compared with no intervention. The intervention had to be carried out by the parent/carer – i.e. not by early years or school staff. Studies needed to report language outcomes (comprehension and/or expressive language) or pre-reading outcomes (for example, phonological awareness). To be included studies had to report the children’s test performance before and after the intervention. WHAT WE FOUND We identified 22 studies which met our inclusion criteria and of these we were able to meta-analyse the results from 16 studies. Altogether, the reviews reported on 751 children receiving intervention, and 569 control group children, and were conducted across 5 countries. The mean age of the children was 39.47 months. There were a number of key findings from the review. The first is that the majority of the studies show positive effects but the largest effect by quite a long way was on receptive language skills demonstrated by a number of randomised controlled trials, however this effect was non-significant. The average effect size of 0.68 for receptive vocabulary is equivalent to an advantage of 8 months using criteria developed by the Education Endowment Foundation. This was twice to that for pre-reading skills and for expressive language. The findings for receptive vocabulary skills is especially important for two reasons. Receptive language skills tend to be more predictive of later educational and social difficulties in school and, to date, evidence has suggested that early receptive language skills were the most difficult to change. Other findings from the review indicated that early book reading was powerful throughout the preschool period particularly for receptive vocabulary development, but book reading was also effective for children over three years of age and slightly more effective with more socially disadvantaged children. There was some indication that studies which included electronic devices had similar effects to those that used books. Importantly and unlike most of the findings from the other reviews our findings were relatively consistent or homogeneous (the results going in the same direction). This is almost certainly a function of the narrow focus of the review and gives us confidence in predicting what is reasonably achievable in this area. The intervention effects appear to be marked at relatively low dosage. Whether the findings point to book reading providing an inoculation against downstream effect on language, school readiness or indeed school performance is another question not addressed by the data we have looked at here. Studies tend to report only on the immediate impact of the interventions. We were also interested in whether such intervention studies have been carried out in a range of different countries and indeed this was the case. While the majority (15) were carried out in the US there were also two from South Africa, two from Canada, two from Israel and one from Hong Kong. The findings were comparable across countries. None of the included studies had been carried out in the UK. In the light of common practice in some areas it is significant that we identified no intervention studies which sought to assess the effects of a universal model of book gifting, simply giving books to everyone. Similarly, we found no studies which allowed us to draw comparisons between the relative role of mothers, fathers, other carers and siblings. In summary, this is a tightly constrained systematic review with clear findings. The results are coherent if slightly lower than some other reviews but give a clear indication of the level of response that should be predicted from this type of intervention.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Law J, Charlton J, McKean C, Beyer F, Fernandez-Garcia C, Mashayekhi A, Rush R

Publication type: Report

Publication status: Published

Series Title:

Year: 2020

Print publication date: 21/06/2020

Acceptance date: 14/06/2020

Institution: Newcastle University and Queen Margaret University